It’s not unusual for me to receive from friends and acquaintances links to performances and concerts that could stir the heart to ride a wave of nostalgia for a place in one’s memory. But I don’t usually open any of them to allow myself the luxury of reminiscing, and especially not in these days of riskiness and unreliability.
The strangest thing happened to me the other day. I clicked on a link my brother sent me. After all, if my brother thought it worth sharing, then I should at least take the time to click on it. It took me to a concert choir performing a song in Arabic. The title of the song was Ya Beirut (Oh Beirut). Forty five seconds into it I felt my heart flutter and another 20 seconds later when the soloist started to sing, something inside me broke and with no predictions or warning signs the tears started to stream down my face uncontrollably. What was so special or different about this that could cause a tidal wave to burst? Was it the simple arrangement of lyrics to the song or the honeyed voice of the young soloist who sang of a homeland that refuses defeat? Perhaps it was both. Yet there was something more that made me surrender entirely to the music, melody and the lyrics. I was drawn to the soloist. There was a softness in the depth of her radiant eyes that gave her face a familiar definition…an edge of sweetness, a vulnerability that was visible in her smile of rose lips from which flowed the words of a song … a sweet, wrenching song that made the hair on my arms stand up. It made me lean back and weep.
Music accompanied by song does that. However, everyone may not feel what I describe. Some may feel what I felt with another song or type of music, and some, nothing at all. From the ballads of country song to the self-contained arias of opera; from the blue notes of jazz to the religious and folklore spirit of soul music; from rock, pop and rap, to classical, concert or cinematic, whatever the type, the genre or words, it touches a cord within us that resonates in our heart, mind, and spirit. It touches our soul because it expresses what we can’t verbally express ourselves in what or how we feel. We are compelled by it. We are provoked by it. We are moved by it. We are inspired by it. We feel connected to it. It reflects something profound about who we are and our experience in all the different phases of our lives. And we feel a reminiscent connection to that music that takes us back to a certain time or place in our life. There are songs and melodies that remind us of the first time we fell in love, or songs that bring back tender moments, wonderful moments of family gatherings, of picnics and parties; songs that remind us of heartbreak, and songs that awaken in us our culture; songs that delineate our history, of conquest and defeat, of unions and separations; songs that push us to our limits, songs that motivate us and keep us going, songs that strike a cord in our heart’s mind arousing unexpected sadness, and songs that cheer us up, and songs that lift us to another dimension.
Ya Beirut performed by Philokalia choir and ensemble simply overwhelmed me. The young soloist with whom I felt an inexplicable connection awed me. It wasn’t until the end of the song that I realized my brother had sent me the link to introduce me to her — Hayfa Nour Yeghiayan, a second cousin whom I had not met since I had left Lebanon in the midst of a war around which time she was born soon after.
I listened through my tears. The music and lyrics triggered feelings absorbed through my veins and her voice held the power to undress the ache lodged in my heart under the many layers of my human shield. It reinforced what I longed to remember of Beirut, a city in a country that is the most educated in the region with the most creative and talented, courageous, generous and kindest of peoples. A country that has millenniums of history, that holds the treasured cedar tree of biblical note as the symbol of her pride embedded in her flag, who for years has heroically maintained a balance between the horrors of war and corruption and the semblance of ordinary life, and now, a country that yesterday saw what the world saw—a rain of carnage and destruction from an explosion that rocked the very foundation of an already fragmented city—Ya Beirut.